it a memoir? a pamphlet? a lament over the century?) is a lyricalnyet never sentimental tableau of the human condition; itnis perhaps significant that its publication coincided with Malraux’snultrapoliticized thus ephemeral La condition humaine.nMalraux, however, was an intellectual infected with the century’snUtopia, revolution, and illusion-chasing, while Celinentalks about real people: the tired waitress who has an illegitimatenchild and who accommodates the sex demands of Arabnclients; the low-ranking colonial official who kicks the pantsnof Africans since they are inferior even to him; the stowaway innNew York who watches from a park bench the unattainablensecretaries and their false glitter; the doctor in the banlieues ofnParis to whom wretched neighbors bring their physical andnmoral abjection, (hi real life, Celine was Dr. Louis-FerdinandnDestouches, a physician in a popular quartier.)nWhat is modern and reactionary in this? The fusion of thensmell and taste of real life with the robust argot of the people,nthe discovery that bourgeois “values” are a facade for the miserynthat people drag behind them; the organic tie, good andnbad, between people in no need of an ideology to tell the difference;nand, in France, the stamp of modernity and reactionnwas the language that Celine used, not that of agreges but ofnhigh and low classes, shopkeepers and countesses, of peoplenlike Marius, Cesar, and Fanny in Pagnol’s movies, and theirnimmortal common sense, cries, and laughter. Asked whatngood French was, 17th-eentury grammarian Vaugelas answerednthat it was Versailles-vocabulary daily nourished by the downto-earthnspeech of crate-carriers from Les Halles, the busy marketnof Paris. Celine could masterfully use this refined andnearthy tongue, adjust to the humor, the savor, the cynicism,nthe street-level tragedies, without ever becoming vulgar, cynical,nor ungrammatical. The way his contemporary, Bernanos,nfashioned and accredited the speech of saints from the everyday,nCeline recreated the language of the quartier, of thenconcierge: never offensive, always genuine, carrying in its currentnthe bistro’s smell and the housewives’ gossip. This, mindnyou, at a time when it was fashionable to invent the pseudopoor,nthe pseudoworker, the whole salon-proletariat, symptomsnof bourgeois self-flagellation.nWithout the Cerman occupation, Celine’s modernism andnreactionary writing would have had an uninterrupted influencendeep into the postwar decades. As it turned out, reaction wasnoutlawed, and modernism was taken over by the left. Howncould a right-wing writer, with fascist or Vichyist sympathies,nbe anything but a decrepit defender of all anciens regimes?nHow could he have a popular style, not dictated by Moscow’sninterests and by socialist realism? The new affirmation wasnthat one could be a great writer and a right-winger, partly becausenla droite was free, its writers did not protect littlensinecures, ministerial posts, reputations made by visits to Havana,nPeking, and various peace-congresses; partly because leftistnwriters became the new Establishment, ex-rebel Malrauxnbecoming de CauUe’s minister of culture and Sartre a wealthynbourgeois.nThe turning point came in 1968, on the streets of Parisnwhere the newest new class, the students, proved to benbut conditionally leftists, since they incorporated a series ofnrightist demands and watchwords in their manifestos. L’imaginationnau pouvoir was, after all, nowhere to be found in thenMarxian corpus. A typical illustration of the turnaround wasnthe life of Regis Debray, Che Cuevara’s companion in the Bo­nlivian adventure. When Debray was released after a halfdozennyears in the jungle-jail, he became the closest thing allowablento a social-nationalist, although he soon started servingnin Mitterrand’s entourage. From playboy to jungle fighternto nationalist pamphleteer, ready to take a role in a Celinennovel! hi other words, after 1968, things loosened up. Celine,nBernanos, Montheriant, Anouilh, Kleber Haedens, Giono, andnAynie became first grudgingly accepted, then the dominantninfluence in literature, theater, and thought—and all werenpureblood reactionaries. Their style, unencumbered by slogans—stylenis man himself, said Buffon—showed none of thenmarmoreal qualities of the Nouvelle Revue Frangaise generationnof Proust and Cide. It was not studded by nationalist slogansnas the novels of Barres, and it tore with hungry teethninto the language of reality. While Celine himself was consecratednby publisher Gaston Gallimard (Celine set his ownnroyalties and number of copies printed), a phalanx of youngnwriters took his succession. Their identification card wasnstamped with the following credentials: they took life, war,nand peace in both hands, lived the tragic carnage of hidonesianand Algeria, became writer-mercenaries in Angola, andnwept over lost comrades and the lost empire at Dien Bien Phu.nThey were heavily political, in fact violently opposed to denGaulle and his lies and treachery; they were jailed, censored,nforced into exile—but always remained true to literature, hinshort, they lived Celinian lives, taking risks, mixing brutalitynand tenderness; they cynically dismissed causes, and werenready to die for them.nToday, in the exceptionally shallow years of Giscard’s andnMitterrand’s liberal-socialist-consumerist republic, the universalnboredom announced by Fukuyama is compelled to makena little place for the only worthwhile literature still tolerated.nSince nothing happens in Mitterrandia, except elections, invectives,nand corruption (come to think of it, this describesnnot France alone), the novelist is led once again to the explorationnof the imaginary. Is Jean Raspail the closest in successionnto Celine? Hard to say since the latter was a force ofnnature and a chameleon, at home in bistros and on Africannslave ships—imagine a Joseph Conrad with a roaring humor—narmed with a style that makes you cry and laugh after innumerablenrereadings.nRaspail, on the other hand, combines the plasticity of thenmoviemaker and the daring, rare today, of the explorer of ancient/newnlands and legends. His Camp of the Saints has, however,nCelinian dimensions as it relates the pouring of millionsnof wretched Hindus into France, unresisted by cowardly drawing-roomnhumanists until the invaders take over, first thenProvence, then Paris—in the name, one assumes, of humannrights. It is a rich and hilarious drama, aching to be filmed, ifnfilmmakers were not cowards. Raspail’s literature leaves Francenfor the pampas of Patagonia, the high seas, half-imaginarynkingdoms, the last breath of freedom in a world closing in onnus with unsmiling GNPs, national debt, and “no smoking”nsigns. In the steps of Raspail, Dominique de Roux, andnJacques Laurent one sees traces of Celine’s winged boots.nWhile Sartre has become illegibly passe, predictable, and boring—except,nof course, to the professional leftist mourners—nMaurice Clavel is the new (posthumous) hero of the post-1968ncrowd that fused left and right with a reactionary message.nMaurice Clavel fired their imaginations, since he too combinednleftist indignation with Catholic orthodoxy, and denouncednderelict bishops in the wake of Vatican II.nnnAUGUST 1992/17n